This is the third of my posts on the topic of self-managing depression. I’ve previously touched on the importance of a growth mindset and how it’s important to set achievable goals on the path to recovery. While you’re pursuing thethree small steps I’ve written about, there’s no harm in reflecting on the business of wellbeing itself and whether the pursuit of happiness is a reasonable or even attainable goal.
It’s often said that our sense of wellbeing comes about through the combination of three things. First, we need to sense some level of control in our lives. Secondly, we need to feel confident in what we do and how we go about it. Thirdly, we can’t ignore the fact that we’re social animals. This requires give and take and the formation of safe and secure connections with others. Fulfilling these needs goes a long way to making our lives meaningful.
Some of the blocks to wellbeing come about from beliefs we may hold about what makes us happy. Fortunately we’re ahead of the curve in terms of what we know about these beliefs and their relative merits. We know, for example that the long-term effects of wealth, education, beauty, sunshine living and even health have little overall bearing on personal contentment (happiness). We also know that social relationships, having children, work, spirituality, sleep and food all have a positive bearing on personal contentment.
Many people reading this may be thinking, ‘hold on - I eat well, I have a decent job, a good relationship and a good circle of friends, so why haven’t I been protected from depression - why am I unhappy?’ That’s two questions and there are, perhaps, two quick answers. First, there are many causes and types of depression and they can derive from any one or a combination of factors from life events, bereavement, medical conditions, drugs, lifestyle factors or genetics.
As for happiness, well that’s not exactly the opposite of depression. Plenty of people never suffer with clinical depression but aren’t exactly happy either. There is a suggestion that our set range of happiness derives from a combination of three factors. The first depends upon our genetic make up which may determine around 50 percent of our happiness potential. Then of course life circumstances will always have a bearing, so if we assume say 10 percent for this what we are left with is around 40 percent of happiness potential within our gift to control. This is a pretty big chunk of potential.
With these issue in mind it’s perhaps easier and simpler to pursue a goal of improved wellbeing than targeting happiness. Happiness, in its various forms, will come about as a result of this but it isn’t something you can cling onto or expect to last. None of us exist in a haze of happiness. We have moods that suit and serve different occasions and we shouldn’t confuse moments of pleasure with happiness.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.